A grocery store on Cleveland's East Side is closing; Residents say they're worried about life in a new food desert.
On a recent morning, Michael Allen waited for the bus outside of Dave’s Market in North Collinwood on Cleveland’s East Side. As he waited he chatted with his neighbor, Lindira Barron, about the closure of the grocery store on Lakeshore Boulevard.
The two live across the street from the market in a senior housing complex.
“They don’t care,” Allen said while shaking his head, his frustration visible. “They just don’t care.”
Many in the North Collinwood neighborhood are dismayed, angry and worried about the closure of Dave’s Market on April 30. The news came as a shock to the community, who depend on the grocery store not just because it has fresh food, but also because it’s within walking distance in a neighborhood where half the households don’t have a vehicle. Half of the resident households are also eligible for food bank benefits, according to the Cleveland-based Centers for Community Solutions.
Although Allen frequently walks across the street to get food, he expressed more concern for others in his building who have mobility issues.
“It’s going to be bad,” he said. “People all over there shop here.”
About 23% of North Collinwood has a disability, higher than Cuyahoga County’s average of 14.8%, according to data from The Center for Community Solutions.
“I see some older people walking, and I say, ‘Give me the bags.’ I walk with them, or they’re on their electric chair,” said Allen. “When this shuts down it’s going to be really bad.”
Candelario Delara, 66, is partially paralyzed on his left side from a stroke. He uses a cane and often walks to Dave’s from his apartment nearby.
“I’m new here, to Cleveland, and this is the only store I know,” he said.
Delara and others in the area can take the bus to the nearest full-service grocery store, Save-a-Lot, about a mile and a half away. There are two bus routes that could get shoppers from the area of the Dave’s store to the Save-a-Lot, but both routes would require shoppers to walk about 10 minutes with their groceries, according to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit trip planner.
There aren’t any stores within a quarter-mile of the soon-to-close Dave's, a distance considered walkable by many researchers, that sell fresh food, an Ideastream analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows.
Roger Sikes, Program Manager at Cuyahoga County Board of Health, has worked for years to prevent food deserts. The closure of Dave’s Market goes against everything he’s worked for, Sikes said.
“In this acute neighborhood, half a mile around the store, almost 50% of households did not have a vehicle," he said. "That’s relative to Cuyahoga County, you’re looking at 13% of households don’t have vehicles. So when something like this closes here, it hits people in the gut.”
About half of North Collinwood’s residents are eligible to receive food bank benefits, according to the Center for Community Solutions. The average household makes about $28,000 a year, a few thousand less than Cleveland’s average.
For these families, there are 106 stores within a five-mile radius of the current Dave’s location, according to an Ideastream analysis of U.S. Food and Drug Administration data. But the majority – more than three-quarters – are convenience stores, dollar stores and gas stations that typically sell prepackaged food and limited selections of fresh items.
A store is eligible to accept SNAP benefits if they sell “staple foods” like fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry or fish, and bread or cereals and meet certain criteria, according to the USDA.
Sikes is concerned about residents’ health after the grocery store closes. There’s a direct correlation between neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores and those with higher rates of chronic disease, he said.
“Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer,” he said. “If you map Cuyahoga County, you’re more likely to have higher rates of those and to die from those if you are in a food desert or have low supermarket access.”
A recent paper published in the journal of Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows a strong association between living in an area with high levels of socioeconomic deprivation and death before age 65 by cardiovascular disease.
"As you increase the social deprivation or as you go down when the socioeconomic status or position you have, you have higher rates of premature cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Sadeer Al-Kindi, a cardiologist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, who wrote the paper.
It's about more than just health
The issue isn’t just about health and longevity. The area will also lose an ATM and check cashing service when Dave's closes.
“It’s all these basic neighborhood functions,” said Sikes. “Even just like newspapers. They’ve got newspapers upfront. Grocery stores, they’re such community hubs.”
Grocery stores also have economic impacts on the neighborhood, Sikes said. Other businesses will pop up nearby grocery stores, or — without one — nearby stores could close. That could create a cycle of disinvestment in the community, which would then lower property values.
According to 2017 data from the home buying app Zillow, home values in food deserts are about 18 percent lower in food deserts.
The store’s closure will also have an economic impact on the employees who work there, who will either be transferred to another store or quit.
Many, like Audrey, live in the neighborhood. She asked that her last name not be used in the story. Audrey will have to drive to the Dave’s Market in Euclid, which is farther away.
“It will really impact me because the gas prices are high,” she said, laughing. “As to where I can come around here on fumes. It really is a mess, but what are we going to do?”
Dave’s owners — the Saltzman family — have been silent in their public comments about their reasons for closing. They didn’t respond to Ideastream Public Media's request for comments, but they told city leaders it’s an issue with low sales volume and higher rent. The landlord disputes this, according to Cleveland.com, saying they wouldn’t have raised the rent if the store had committed to a longer-term lease. The owners and city will partner to provide a free shuttle, according to city council members.
But Sikes said a shuttle is at-best a temporary solution.
"It’s definitely not a long-term, strategic solution for the city. It’s more like a stop-gap," Sikes said.
For now, no long-term solutions have been presented to the community.